Decolonizing Travel in Hawai'i | Hokulani Aikau & Vernadette Gonzalez (Detours)
On this episode our guests are Dr Hokulani K Aikau (a Kanaka Oiwi) and Dr Vernadette V Gonzalez, editors of Detours: A Decolonial Guide to Hawai’i. They join me to discuss the ongoing COVID-19 tourism crisis in Hawaii, the military-tourism industrial complex, the appropriation of Aloha, the importance of the invitation in hospitality, tourism under a sovereign Hawai'i, as well as the US occupation of Hawai'i. We had an amazing time on this interview and it ends with a bang - speaking to responsibility, imagination, and action.
Dr Aikau is currently a professor at the University of Victoria in the Indigenous Governance Program. In addition to the Detours series, she has also published two other books including A Chosen People, a Promised Land: Mormonism and Race in Hawaiʻi, as well as Feminist Waves, Feminist Generational Cultures: Life Stories from Three Generations in the Academy, 1968-1998.
Dr Gonzalez is a professor of American Studies and Director of the Honors Program at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa. 1She has authored other books including her most recent, entitled “Empire’s Mistress, Starring Isabel Rosario Cooper’ as well as “Securing Paradise: Tourism and Militarism in Hawai‘i and the Philippines.” Vernadette is also the editor and author of many other collections and articles on tourism, empire, and militarism.
Where are we?
COVID-19 and the pandemic in Hawai'i / Tourists bringing the plague
The military-tourism industrial complex in Hawai'i
The importance of the invitation / where has it gone?
Aloha as a way of being perverted by the tourism industry
The Malama Honua Worldwide Voyage
What it means to be a good guest
Hokulani Aikau’s invitation/welcome onto Songhees territory
Kuleana / Responsibility / Land
Hokulani returning to her native Hawai’i at 25 (as a tourist)
Cultural homelessness and travel of tourists juxtaposed with the movements of Pacific Islanders
Tourism and the logic of extraction
Huaka'i, Tours for Transformation
Affecting change via tourism: is it possible?
Is deoccupation / decolonization possible with tourism?
US acknowledgement of illegality of US overthrow of Hawai’i
What would tourism look like under a sovereign Hawai’i?
Failure of pandemic change
Locally and indigenously crafted terms of engagement with tourists/foreigners
Decolonizing Travel and Tourism in Hawai'i
Chris: Welcome to the pod professor Hokule'a and Bernadette, we usually begin the show by offering our listeners a glimpse of where we find ourselves today. Would you to be willing to share with us what the world looks like where you are?
Hokulani: Sure. I'll go ahead and start first. My name is Hokulani Aikau, and I am coming to you today from the homelands of the lək ̓ ʷəŋən people, which is also the shared territory of the Saanich and the Songhees people in what we now call Victoria. And it is a spectacularly bright sunny day, and the air is cool and crisp because it's starting to turn as the weather turns a little bit cooler.
And I am a guest on these lands and have visited here before, many times. And this is the first time that I was actually able to be welcomed onto these lands by Songhees elders and have permission to be here, to live work, and raise my children. Aloha.
Vernadette: Aloha, I'm coming to you from Palolo Valley where I make my home here. I've lived here in Hawaii as a guest and an ally to indigenous folks. Today was a really wet morning and I took my puppy out for a walk. And as I came back, I saw this gorgeous, gorgeous rainbow. And it ended right where my house is by the stream. And I thought, okay, maybe that's an omen for, you know, today.
And like the kinds of, the kinds of conversations we'll get to have, and the types of interactions we'll get to have today.
Chris: Thank you both. I'd like to, uh, start with the context of what's happening in Hawaii right now. I read an article last month in which Hawaiian politicians were hesitantly, very hesitantly it seems, asking tourists not to travel there because of the heavy spikes in COVID-19 cases. What is happening right now in Hawaii, and what's changed, if anything, since the beginning of the plague?
Vernadette: The numbers here have been higher, over the summer especially, they peaked sort of into August. They, they really peaked on much higher than they were when things shut down a year and a half ago in May of 2020. The governor basically requested tourists not to come because there was a huge influx of tourists as soon as vaccines became available, as soon as businesses started to open up again.
And it did correlate with the rise in numbers, although there's also research that shows that there was a great deal of community spread, right? So it wasn't necessarily about the tourists, but it was about getting tourists to understand that their presence here impacted the limited resources that are available to the folks here who may need them such as hospital beds, um, such as emergency room kinds of resources.
And so, it was really quiet here when, when the shutdown happened. You could really see the difference between pre COVID and post COVID and the biggest impact I would say that was felt by everybody was economic, right? Because tourism brings in a great deal of Hawaii's income as a state.
And so I think that, that you would normally never hear from our government leaders, the words "don't come," that previously only came from Haunani-Kay Trask, who was a Hawaiian native Hawaiian activists, who uninvited tourists to Hawaii. That kind of uninvitation, disinvitation would normally never come from government officials.
So it was a really kind of interesting moment to hear that and to hear folks, you know, our leaders here kind of consider what the impacts might be of tourists coming here during a really critical time.
Chris: Wow. Yeah, the same, very much happened here in Oaxaca, largely a tourist city and it was incredible to see the streets empty with the exception of locals and there was definitely a sense among people that they had gotten something back. At the same time, it was incredibly difficult to imagine how people can continue economically in that circumstance. So it seems like the pandemic has acted very much as a prism into the worlds and social structures that we've built in our places.
So the colonial history of Hawaii is one rife with unwelcome and ill-behaved guests, from Captain Cook to whalers and missionaries to foreign militaries and governments (most recently, the US government). Could either of you offer our listeners, who might be unaware of the history, a little context for how the U S military and the tourism industry feed each other in Hawaii.
Vernadette: You know, I would say that the two have worked hand in hand, and that, that there is a way in which tourism works to occlude through pretty images, right? Through notions of access and pleasure, the violence of military occupation.
The US military has been here for a long time. And you know, their presence here even prior to the overthrow was a big impetus for the United States to eventually actually take over the archipelago. Right, it became a, uh, initially had been eyed by multiple world powers, the United States among them, as a really handy stepping stone location to Asia and the rest of the world.
This is during sort of high imperialism. And so, when the Spanish American war broke out in the Philippines, the United States, you know, already had a foothold in the Hawaii and that kind of consolidated their desire to make that permanent. And that's when we see the overthrow, which had resulted in the establishment of a not a territorial government a sort of in-between proxy government really. Right, that was not American, but yet was, because it was American business owners who essentially, American oligarchy, who essentially ran the islands at that point. That's when it became more officially, though illegally American. It became an American territory at that point in 1898. So, you see some early travel writing actually playing into the way that Hawaii is portrayed as a tropical paradise.
And so you see a lot of the early tropes already at work in travel writing and a lot of the ways in which white settlers who were here around that time were trying to get more white settlers to come over was through this idea of Hawaii as paradise. Come here, come settle here. Right.
And so those two work hand in hand, military desire and the kind of fantastical, tropical, exotic, image of Hawaii from the very beginning.
Hokulani: I'll just add that. You know, the collusion between the plantation economy and business owners with the US military was something that was already underway in the 1860s, right?
Even under the kingdom of Hawaii, business interests and US military were already colluding in order to... the US military wanted ports. Business wanted access to the markets in the United States to sell their sugar. And so, you know, the reciprocity treaties between Hawaiian kingdom and the United States really were all about, us having access to Hawai'i's ports in order to leverage their military strategic position in the Pacific.
And then that relationship only gets more and more consolidated with the overthrow that relied upon the US Marines docked in the Harbor to secure, to force the queen to abdicate her throne. And then 1898 with the military's position as they, you know, begin the, um, war in the Pacific against Spain. So it's just like over and over again, the United States military is able to consolidate more and more power over time. We see that even with statehood and then even now.
And the role that tourism plays as Vernadette said, is that it erases the violence of the US military and its everpresence.
Right? So when we look at the landscape, one of the chapters in our book is a "detour" that our colleagues do, Kyle Kajahiru and auntie Terry Kay Kaulani. And what they do is make visible the way that the military infrastructure makes tourism and the expansion of tourism possible. Right. So the highways that connect one side of the island to the other, or that allow the tourists to do the circle island tour, actually connect military bases to each other.
And it's that military infrastructure that makes possible the expansion of tourism and tourism then allows US military to operate without a lot of critique and criticism, because it's invisible to those around you. Unless you know, that you're on a highway that's intended to connect their Marine base on the Leeward side with the joint and Navy and air force base on the Windward side to the Leeward side.
You wouldn't know that you were doing that. You'd be like, oh, look at this beautiful scenic highway, but it's very much all at the service of a military industrial complex that is housed in Hawaii, but has a reach across all of the Pacific and into Asia.
The head of the joint command of the Pacific is in Hawaii, on Oahu at Camp Smith, I think is the name of it.
Chris: Wow. So we can't talk about tourism without talking about foreign occupation and military presence in Hawaii.
Hokulani: Right. In the military presence in Guam and in Okinawa and its role in negotiating you know, access to places. The list goes on and on. It intersects in really key, strategic ways in Hawaii. And, and I think a lot of folks don't really understand the role that Hawaii plays as a central location in all of the United States foreign influence in the Pacific region and Asia. It's huge. And tourism, and, you know, tropes of the tropics, desires for tropical vacation, that's accessible for English speaking people.
Vernadette: ... and ideas of security and safety upon which tourism is built. We see this sort of at work with a pandemic, right? With the sort of warnings about where is it safe to go?
But prior to that, it was all about "where is it safe to go, where there is an unrest or there isn't a so-called terrorism." And so you see those kinds of state department mechanisms right at work all the time. And it intersects with tourism. And there's definitely relationships between which places are considered safe and tourable and accessible in which places aren't.
Chris: Well, thank you both for that. I think our listeners will be very grateful for that as I was reading your book and I'm just blown away at the history and the complexities of it. Something that I never could have imagined and never came close to in my two or three weeks that I was visiting Hawaii some 10, 15 years ago.
So Detours: A Decolonial Guide to Hawaii. I'd like to ask how that book came about. How did it start? What was the premise and a you two meeting together to work on it.
Vernadette: I think in some ways we were merely the midwives of this book, right?
A lot of the work that has gone into the pieces that are in the book. So, just to clarify, we're the editors of the book. We're not the writers, you know, we co-wrote the introduction to it. And we did the labor of sort of shepherding it through the editorial and publication process. But what we came to realize one day, I think it was at a conference where we were attending different panels and we made a point to attend panels that had our colleagues from Hawaii presenting.
And it, it came to us that there was sort of a critical mass at that point. I think this was in 2015, of people who are doing really incredible work around restoration, around place-based political action. That there was a different story of Hawaii that was coalescing.
And so we pitched to Duke University Press that that was indeed what we were going to write. At first, we really sort of thought that this was going to be an alternative guidebook, still kind of really leaning on the idea of a guide book, you know, along the lines of the People's Guide to Los Angeles.
Right? So it's sort of a deeper, race-based history of the place. But what became clear was that we were not interested, nor where are our contributors, over the course of the couple of years that we workshopped the pieces with each other, in laying out Hawaii for consumption, even for well-meaning tourists and travelers, right?
That this was instead a re-narration, a different kind of demand, a different kind of encounter that was being demanded in and described for the reader of the book, right. This was not going to be Hawaii for easy access, but rather Hawaii for unsettling. And so, that's how the book came to be.
Um, hope we, did you wanna add anything else?
Hokulani: Right. So, you know, with the guidebook, the audience for that genre is explicitly the tourist. And one of the things that we learned again through the process of working closely with our contributors is, and at the time we were both professors at the university of Hawaii at Manoa and teaching classes and we're engaging with, and we're reflecting on our work with our students, is that a lot of people who live in Hawaii don't know this history or don't know what's going on. Right.
And of course, they're not going to know a lot of this critical history or what kinds of practices are happening in different parts of the islands, because once the United States took over control of Hawaii, it implemented assimilation projects that included the banning of the Hawaiian language from being spoken in any public place, including schools and taking control of the public education system. Right.
So this process of indoctrinating residents of Hawaii, native Hawaiians in particular, as well as, you know, children of Asian workers, laborers from the plantation into an American nationalist worldview and perspective and future is the normative foundation there.
So what we wanted to do was to speak beyond just the tourists, but also to residents, to people who live there, as well. And so what we realized is that the guidebook as a genre was still too restrictive for us to really make the kinds of interventions we were interested in making, and we needed to shift our perspective.
So we moved from thinking about the guide book to thinking about, is this now a decolonial guide, guides people to de-colonial practices that are happening across the Pai Aina, the archipelago and beyond, right? And so that's really how the project evolved and came to be what it is now.
Chris: Thank you. Yeah. I have here, a little quote from the book that I found incredible, from the introduction actually. You to write,
"this book is a guide to Hawaii that does not put tourists desires at the center. It will not help recreate the discovery narrative. It will not help people find paradise. It does not offer solace in a multicultural Eden where differences dressed in aloha shirts and grass skirts. This book is meant to unsettle, to disquiet and to disturb the quote 'fact' of Hawaii as a place for tourists."
This was something that I've been very much wondering about over my six years here in Southern Mexico and trying to honor the place and the people and the cultural gastronomy through what I consider to be detours.
And eventually coming to this notion that tourists were 99% of my clientele, my guests, and realizing more and more every year that these things need to be offered first and foremost to local people, because in the instance that I'm referring to the, there were, there are things that local people have largely forgotten.
Vernadette: I think that even for the folks here, a lot of the way that we learn about Hawai'i is so overdetermined by the tourist industry and the ways that Hawaii is written about in guide books, if you look at what the best-selling books are about Hawaii, you type in "Hawaii," it will be a guidebook.
It will be a tourist guide to Hawaii and the sort of narrative superficiality, right, that exists in those kinds of stories about this place are the ways that the folks here come to operate a lot of the ways. And because also it's in our everyday spaces, right. Tourism shapes the way we interact with each other here and the way that we imagine each other here. It's just got that much power, right, as a kind of entity and a kind of cultural presence.
And so what we hope to do with detours, even when we were just playing with the genre of the guidebook, and it's still there, right? If you see the book, the cover is kind of a riff on the guidebook. And we still kind of wanted to keep that because there was an understanding that because the guidebook genre is so powerful, we wanted to play with it and get people to understand that that in itself what was shaping their anticipation and understanding and imagination of place.
But we also wanted to interrupt it right, to disrupt, as Hoku put, the ways that people have come to imagine a particular really hard and flat Hawaii, rather than something alive, something that is emergent, right. When you think about some of the stories in the book, you really see different groups of people coming together and claiming Hawaii and claiming indigenous practice in Hawaii, restoring land, restoring practices related to land in ways that I think the guidebook absolutely cannot capture right. And is actually, antithetical to the ideas and the kind of values that underpin the tourist guide book.
Hokulani: I was just wondering, I mean, what I could say here now is that the other side to the decolonization or the de-linking from the colonial infrastructure that includes tourism and militarism is the commitment that we share with our contributors, to bring forward examples of the restoration of what we call in Hawai'ian "ea" right? "Ea" is often translated to mean "sovereignty." Um, but our colleague Noelani Goodyear-Ka'opua, who was also at the University of Hawaii at Manoa describes "ea" in a much more capacious kind of way. "Ea" is the concept that means life and breath. And it's a practice that has to be cultivated day after day, generation after generation.
Our contributors work, the work that they were all doing was already operating in two ways. One, de-linking unsettling, dislodging, coloniality colonialism, all of that, right? Critiquing heteropatriarchy, capitalism, and white supremacy, while at the same time they were offering an otherwise that was grounded in this commitment to the restoration of "ea." And it's that two-part political practice that we wanted to really make visible, that we thought that the book was really going for and demonstrating that speaks to its productive power.
Chris: Well, speaking of these concepts, which are largely concepts for the foreign ear and eye. I wanted to speak a little bit about this notion of both hospitality and the invitation, which is referred to more than a few times in the book.
It is written "these [European] guests to the kingdom for that is what they were, settlers who had been granted residency by virtue of Royal tolerance.
Colonialism is the ultimate breach of guest protocol. It violates a welcome, one that was never actually extended in order to fulfill a desire to take and possess land that is not one's own."
The history of colonialism is often one in which local people extend hospitality and tolerance to guests or foreigners without receiving reciprocity. Over time that hospitality invites entitlement on the parts of guests, while also turning into hostility on the side of the host.
How do you think the shifting relationship between hospitality and guest protocol has changed in Hawaii since the arrival of, for example, captain cook?
Hokulani: Well, it's a pretty big question, right? I guess there's some ways that things haven't changed since the time of Cook.
Right. And what hasn't changed are the ideologies that European and then later American travelers to Hawaii brought with them. A sense of entitlement to people and places. Those are motivations can be scientific in the context of captain cook, who was part of, you know, this process of mapping the transit of Venus in order to have a more accurate understanding of the earth.
Right? And so he was exploring not to find new lands, but as part of a part of a larger scientific endeavor to figure that out, to be able to do that work right. And then we have whalers and others who are exploring and also part of a larger economy, right. A globalized economy.
So we can think about tourism as just another iteration of a larger global economy. We can think about astronomy and the building of the telescopes on Mount Hakea (which folks have been protesting now for a long time), as being, again, just a continuation of the scientific endeavor. A European-driven, scientific endeavor that has at its core, a belief that they have a right to wherever they find the knowledge that they're seeking, that's theirs to take.
And we, in this book, and our contributors in particular, are constantly pushing back against that belief system, because it's a belief system that continues to permeate the values that people coming to Hawaii continue to have.
And we want to disrupt that. We want to offer up a different set of values that is not predicated on extraction or entitlement, but one based on relationality and cooperation and responsibility.
Vernadette: I think one of the things that is demanded of particular places to become tourist destinations is to figure out what makes you unique. So what will bring a tourist there and for Hawaii one of those things was the turning of this notion of Aloha into something that was alienable, that could be separate and could be exchanged in a transaction. Right.
And that came to symbolize sort of "the friendly native," the particular kind of welcome you would get and come to expect in Hawaii was associated with Kula and the sort of sexualization of hula. It was associated with a giving of the lay. It was associated with all those kinds of things with the luau and the way that, that was like a feast for welcoming, right?
So there was a way in which aloha got separated from its context within a community, right? Because aloha means love. It means joy. It means connection, but when it is just all about welcome, it gets translated into like a tourist grammar of access and availability. Then, it also comes to stand for ever-eternal consent, perpetual consent to this kind of relation, right? Rather than an understanding that this term is grounded in community, it's grounded in relationship to each other. It's grounded in an obligation to the people and the land right and to each other. And when it becomes translated into that capitalistic grammar in which tourism is located, it becomes separate from that.
And that's what we see now, right. With the way tourism operates in Hawaii is that, it's just, you know, you see all these images of welcome of come here, come serve, come to the beaches. Come experience luau, come watch somebody dance for you, you know, get a lay. And it's just that idea that all of this is for you, that we push against because the folks who live here who are doing the work here with their communities and with the aina, with the land, don't operate that way. That's not the way aloha works. Right. And so detours is an attempt to kind of really reject the touristic definition of Aloha, the way Aloha has been used as a sort of mantra for the tourist industry here and ground it back in community with each other.
Hokulani: Can I just add really quickly that this transactional exchange is fundamentally unequal and uneven, right? The pay that people receive for providing services in the tourism industry is not enough to survive and thrive in Hawaii or in any economy that is relying on tourism, as Hawaii is, right.
And so the people who are the ones intended to quote unquote, "sell Aloha" are not the ones who are being financially compensated at a living wage, right, to do that work. And so, so that was the other thing that I just wanted to underline. And then I also just wanted to direct us to one set of our contributors No'u Revilla and Jamaica Heolimelekalani Osorio's chapter, "Aloha is Deoccupied Love," who write that aloha requires reciprocity and responsibility.
So while the tourism industry has appropriated aloha as that open invitation as Vernadette has said, what we're trying to do with this book and what Revilla and Osorio do in their particular chapter is to reframe it back into a Hawaiian cultural context, such that it's about reciprocity and responsibility, not this free-floating term that can be applied to pest control and restaurants and snowboarding equipment, and tiki bars, all of it. Right.
Chris: Yeah, thank you very much. I I'm reminded of something that both of you wrote in the introduction I'd like to quote you, if I might, on behalf of you both.
" While this is a guide, it should not be construed as a blanket invitation, not everyone who reads this book will be invited or allowed to go to all the places that are described. Some places and knowledge have been left out altogether because they are not meant for outsiders. We honor the wishes of the community that has asked that this book not be an invitation to visitors.
We ask that you respect their wishes and follow their protocol for how to engage or not. Sometimes the best way to support decolonization and Kanaka Oiwi, or native Hawaiian resurgence is to not come as a tourist to our home."
And then we find this example at the end of the introduction.
"Speaking of the importance of the invitation, according to Hawaiian protocol, a guest would present a "mele kahea" or a chant petitioning for entry, or welcome to ask permission to enter or pass through a place. One waits for the response, the "mele komo", which grants entry and establishes the expectations of "pono" behavior, gifts and other forms of reciprocity. Mele kahea and mele komo continue to be protocol in the practice of hula and in other rituals involving learning."
My next question for you both is that in my experience, as a guest in foreign lands, the invitation to enter is extremely important.
Why do you think that is, and why do you think in our time Western culture or people have largely abandoned this practice?
Vernadette: I love that question. I've been thinking about it a lot, because I think that technologies that have eased mobility and have sort of democratized travel to a certain degree, have made it so easy to move from place to place in really unthinking ways, in ways that aren't deliberate, that don't think about "what will you do when you get there?"
What is the work that you are doing in that place? How will your presence there, at the very least, not do harm. Right? So these are things I think we stopped thinking about just because travel becomes so easy. We just buy a ticket on Travelocity and hop on a plane and go somewhere to do something.
And you know, I would say I'm also guilty of this, right? Like it's just part of like what we do. And I think that if we're to really become conscious inhabitants of this planet and good neighbors with each other, that a bit more deliberation and a bit more understanding of what you are bringing, um, in terms of a gift, right?
Because the invitation isn't always there. The invitation is typically, always extended by the tourism industry if anyone. Right. But maybe the invitation that's coming from an organization, who's asking you to come, to give a talk or to share your knowledge with them. Right. Um, in that case, that is an invitation.
But I think that when, and Hoka would probably have a lot to say about this, having just been invited right, to go to Victoria and to be invited to have a deeper kind of relationship with the folks who are indigenous to that place or a native to that place who aren't usually called upon to have that authority.
Right. Um, and in fact, who typically have been robbed of that authority in many places. Right. You know, we just kinda need to move through our places with a great deal more purpose and deliberation and also with a great deal, more understanding of what our responsibilities might be once we go to visit a place or return from a place back to the places you might call home.
Hokulani: Yeah. So I wanted just to say two things related to this question of, why has asking permission been abandoned and I'm not sure that it was ever practiced under imperialism. Again, if we go back to thinking about the logics that inspired imperialism or that undergird imperialism, right? It was a belief of strongly held belief that European nations had the right to explore and then own, take possession of, any place that they found.
Right. That is the foundation of the Papal Bulls. That's the foundation for legitimising colonialism and conquest and that's from the 1400s. So I, I actually think that the movement of peoples today and you know this belief that you can go anywhere you want, because you know, you bought a ticket is the norm. And what we want to do is disrupt that.
And it is a norm for, you know, a particular worldview and paradigm, but it's not the norm for all worldviews and all paradigms. And what we're trying to accentuate in this collection of pieces is an indigenous and native Hawaiian worldview that says, no, not everybody gets to go everywhere.
You need to ask permission before you go, before you do anything. And if you're told no, you need to walk away. I feel like there's, there's a couple of places. One example of, from the book that this is like so beautifully captured is in the chapter by Furuto titled "We Never Voyage Alone."
So, she was a member of the worldwide voyage of the Hokule'a, which is, you know, a double hull sailing canoe that used star navigation to circumnavigate the entire globe. Pretty cool stuff. Right. And it took many, many years when they finished crossing the Atlantic, they moved onto the Eastern seaboard of what we now call the United States and made preparations to enter, um, the Harbor and to land in Manahatta and what she writes in her chapter, it says
"the Hawaii delegation entered with traditional genealogical chants, mele and hula acknowledging respect from our native American hosts. Pwo Kalepa Baybayan formerly requested permission to enter the Piscataway land and reflected on the mission of the Malama Honua Worldwide Voyage. To seal the ceremony, chief Tayac resolutely expressed, quote, "you are the second vessel to enter this area in 400 years. And you are the first to ask permission. It is our great hope that together we will be able to reverse some of the damage that was caused by the first vessel." Endquote.
Right? So again, this, this practice is not something that just Hawaiians have of asking permission before going, but this is one that many indigenous peoples have as a foundation to what it means to travel and to be a good guest.
And as Vernadette said, and as I mentioned in my introduction, just recently my colleague Don Smith arranged for us to be welcomed onto the lands of the Songhees people in the traditional manner. And so, I'm now a professor and the Indigenous Governance program.
We have four new faculty that were just hired into the program. We have a whole bunch of new students that are just starting to the program and we all, on the same canoe, paddled to shore and we each introduced ourselves, individually, and spoke about what our intentions are and what our commitments are.
And I think there's something about having to make those declarations in a public way that holds us accountable to why we're there and who we are now responsible to inform. And we do this, not as individuals, but as people representing our ancestors, our communities. I was speaking, you know, also for my children and the responsibilities that they will also have to carry because they are now guests. They are guests on, on these lands.
And so I think it just, it really just makes material those sense of responsibilities, reciprocity, and accountability. And as my colleagues who write about treaty also make clear, is that it's not a one-off. You know, you don't just do it once and then go on. You really have to cultivate and nurture the relationship that was established in that moment of meeting on the beach, asking permission and being allowed to move forward.
And so, it's pretty big stuff. And I think folks don't do it because it is work. Again as Dr. Goodyear Ka'opua writes, " it has to be renewed day after day, generation after generation." You know, there's no stepping back from that.
Chris: Wow. That's incredible. And really something that makes me remember perhaps that permission, that invitation is not just for other people in other places, but exists in the places that we live in as well.
Even as native people in a place that we are guests to our lives and to the places that bear us through. This reminds me that throughout the book, I kept coming across this word, this term "kuleana," and which I guess very superficially means "responsibility," but I'm wondering maybe for our listeners, if you two could pull on that thread a little bit and what it's meant for you, both, living in and in Hawai'i being Hawaiian.
Hokulani: Kuleana is one of those terms that I am always just thinking with, and finding deeper and more expansive meanings when I think about putting it into practice. So kuleana, on a most basic level refers to responsibility. It can also refer to obligations and authority, right, that an individual or a collective might have. Kuleana was also the word that was used in the 1850s, forties and fifties, when the process of privatizing land was underway, kuleana was also the word that described a native Hawaiian's land.
Right? So, folks had to go through a process of establishing, um, what quote unquote, "property" was theirs in order to secure a free hold title to that land. And once they went through that process, it was called their kuleana, right? So, kuleana is about what your responsibilities are as a person, but it's also and always connected to land and responsibilities to land.
And when Hawaiians think about land, they're not just talking about Terrafirma, but they're also talking about all that is above the land. All that is below the land and all that is out to the sea. Right? So it's a very, when we say land, or I know we're talking about a much more expansive understanding than just English term "land."
For Vernadette and I, the word kuleana was really important as a guiding principle for how she and I worked together on this book and for how one of the guiding messages that folks who read the book can take away. So, kuleana is also related to one's standpoint or positionality vis-a-vis land, vis-a-vis in relationship to land. And, kuleana says what's appropriate and what's not appropriate. Right? So, it sets some boundaries based on that relationship.
Kuleana isn't fixed. It's something that can change over time as your relationship deepens or expands, or your responsibilities changed because of age, because of place, because of all kinds of things. Right? So it's not a fixed set of practices, but it just asks us to be in constant, critical reflexivity in relationship to place people, practices, principles, and values.
And so in the introduction, Vernadette and I talk about how our individual relationships are to place and to the book itself were structured differently and we each have different kuleana to carry, based on that positionality. My positionality, as I described in the book is as a native Hawaiian was born in Hawaii.
My family was living in Lāʻie and Hauʻula on the North Shore when I was born. But shortly after we moved to the Dine nation, also known as the Navajo nation. And then from there moved north to Goshute and Shoshone lands, in what is now called Salt Lake City, that whole area.
So as someone who is Kanaka and who has ancestral ties to Hawaii, but raised on the lands of other indigenous peoples and then came back to Hawaii and lived where I lived and worked for over a decade, where my children were born, where I reestablished relationships with people and places there, you know, my relationship to Hawaii is of a different kind than Vernadette's.
And we talked about that and, and this was something that all of the contributors, we all talked about a lot, and we were very clear about when are we overstepping our kuleana? When do we need to pull it back? When do we need to like lean into the kuleana a little bit more, right? When do we need to take up a little bit more work and more space and a little bit more, in order to get things done.
Vernadette: I mean, I think you pretty much covered everything, but you know, somebody who's not native to Hawaii, and someone who, as a result of colonialism also came from the Philippines. I was born and raised there. My childhood was spent there, but then moved around the continent of North America and then over to Hawaii and during my professional life, I would say that it wasn't until I got to Hawaii where the kind of resurgence of Indigenous thought and politics made me really think hard.
Right. And I was trained in Ethnic Studies. You know, my PhD is in Ethnic Studies. I felt like I knew what it meant to think about power, racism, et cetera, um, dispossession. But it wasn't until I came here that I was really like rocked back on my heels. Right. In terms of thinking about what does it mean to live in a place that is occupied, where native folks are fighting for sovereignty and your presence here is not necessarily lending to that.
And so what can you do differently to bear that responsibility and to be responsible to the kinds of things you feel are just in this place. Right. The kinds of efforts that contribute to the restoration of "ea" in this place and the restoration of breath and life to the islands. And so, you know, if that's like your guiding principle, it helps a lot, right?
It shifts a lot of the way you might think about your presence here and the work that you do. And, it checks you. It's a great check for me. When I think about, will this, will this contribute to that? Or will it go the other direction? Right. And I won't say that I'm a Saint, I have totally made mistakes during my time here.
But if you own them, you do something different. Right. You do it differently the next time. Then you're learning, like Hoku says. It's a flexible kind of concept kuleana, right? Learning to take responsibility in places where, you know, you can take more responsibility and then learning to step back when it is not your place.
So a lot of it has to do with sort of understanding your place and understanding that that place or your authority to speak isn't the same in every single situation or your authority to act isn't the same. Right. And so it's a mode of unsettling and being uncomfortable that I think more people could probably learn to be okay with, right, these days.
Chris: And that unsettling demands a lack of comfort. That those two things can't be separated in any way. And I think that's clearly one of the reasons that you two came to this work. Hokulani, in the introduction you write that you were returned to Hawaii when you were 25, as a tourist. What was that experience like, and does it reflect this kuleana that you've both spoken of?
Hokulani: Oh, absolutely. I mean It is again, when we think about the relationship between theory and practice, right? There's always this gap and to find yourself in the gap of that was really fascinating. And it has informed so much of how I think about, um, kuleana, how I think about so many things.
So yeah, when I was 25, um, so we moved when I was three years old and my family was, you know, working class and we were a big family. My parents couldn't afford to fly us all back to Hawaii on a regular basis. Other families can, we did not. And so, we moved away and I was 25 when we went back and we went back on a family vacation and we stayed in Lāʻie at my auntie Janice's house.
So she's not biological kin. She's affective kin member of our family. Right. And she was teaching at BYU, Hawaii, and we stayed at her house and, you know, and we were, we were tourists and in so many ways my relationship to Hawaii was informed by the tourism industry, right. What we wanted to do, how we wanted to do it.
A lot of those decisions were being informed by the infrastructure of tourism, but then there was also the counter narrative, the one where it was also about my dad who moved to Lāʻie when he was a senior in high school. He was born and raised on Maui. They moved to Oahu when he was just starting high school and they were living in Honolulu.
And then his last year of high school, they moved to Laie, and he graduated from Kahuku. And part of our being in Hawaii, was also about, you know, retracing his child, his teenage years and his college years when he was, a student at church college of Hawaii back before it became BYU, Hawaii.
And so there was also the family connections and, and all of that as well. But it was very clear that we were visitors and we were relying heavily on the tourism infrastructure to get around where we went, how we went and when we went to places. And I was conscious of that. Again, those power dynamics, you know, from all of our training in the academy. And then, but when I moved to Hawaii in 2003 to really build a life there, I had to also go through a process of reconnecting to place, to think in much more nuanced and complex ways about my relationship to different places.
Like I said, my father's side of the family traces their genealogy back to Maui and to Moloka'i. And so if we think about where my ancestral homes are, it's not Oahu. So on Oahu, even though I'm native Hawaiian, I am a guest on a wall. I'm a settler of, I don't have ancestral lands there. Okay. On my grandmother's side, there is conversations about how we did have ancestral lands there, but my Tūtū lady's lands were condemned by the state in order to build a high school.
But the places where I was living and I worked were not my ancestral homelands. So I was a guest on those lands too. So I also had to think about kuleana. Right? I think you, you mentioned that already about how even the local residents have to think about it in different ways.
So yeah. And I guess what primed me to be thinking about my place in Hawaii differently was a consciousness being conscious of what it meant to be native Hawaiian on the lands of other indigenous peoples. Right. Again, what does it mean? How do I live into my kuleana when I am again, an uninvited guest on the lands of the Dine people, when we lived down in what is now Southern Utah and on the lands of the Goshutes and Shoshone speaking peoples in Northern Utah, right?
Like what is our responsibilities there, as indigenous settlers? So those are questions that I had already been thinking about and I had to bring them with me. They were with me when I came to Hawaii and I had to grapple with them in very material kinds of ways while I lived there. And they still, you know, follow me to being now here in Lekwungen territory with the Songhees and Saanich peoples as well.
So, yeah, there's no place of innocence. Right. And I think that's one of the things that this book is trying, also trying to do is to say, you know, colonization informs every aspect of our lives and it touches each and every one of us differentially. And so if we believe in decolonization, want to contribute to that, then we all have to do our part, our differential part based on our social locations, our relationships to power, our privilege, all of that, right.
To bring down colonization, to be a part of that de-linking and disruption and dislodging of those oppressive structures and systems.
Chris: I have this question here that I'm going to try to rearrange a little bit based on what we've all been talking about. And it has to do with what's referred to as scientific tourism in the book. And it's specifically around the extensive telescope building at the top of Maui's largest peak, Haleakala. So, as I read that article, I wondered about the, the scientific search for human centered origins.
This aspect of scientific culture that is, to some degree, hell bent on origins, but in this case, origins in the sky. That alongside the tourist search for culture overseas and how they seem to reflect, what I would call the same cultural homelessness, a kind of lack of roots, of culture, of belonging that drives people to other places and cultures in search of what perhaps they lost ancestrally.
How do you see this as is two people who've spent a great deal of time researching these subjects, but also bearing witness to what tourism has done to Hawaii. This, in regards to the search for culture, the search for origins.
Hokulani: One thing I want us to do is to disrupt any kind of bifurcation that could emerge, that somehow to travel or to voyage or to is to seek something that is absent in the place where you are. And I think that one contributor, David Chang really does a fabulous job in the book of making clear that Pacific Islanders have thousands of years of experience voyaging, right?
Thousands of years of voyaging and navigating and learning how to traverse the largest body of water on planet. They didn't do it to originless, right, and they didn't do it cultureless. They carried their cultures on their canoes. They carried their origin stories with them on their canoes.
Which also doesn't mean that they weren't also, you know, colonizing as well. But as we know from post-colonial theory and other kinds of really good scholarships, that's out there in the world, the kind of colonialism, the capitalist colonialism that really emerges out of Europe, that's about conquest and extraction of resources, really changes the kind of travel that happens and then the motivations behind that.
So just as tourists are extracting experiences from the places where they go, science is extracting knowledge. And energy corporations are extracting resources, right. That there's an extractive logic that underpins the problematic travel, the damaging kind of travel that we're describing, and that folks in our book are speaking against.
There is a way to travel that again, if we're traveling with kuleana as our guiding principle, then it allows us to ask, okay, how do I travel in a more ethical kind of way? What does that look like? Where do I go? Where don't I go, how do I get there?
Or do I not go at all, right. Just as governor Igue was like, please don't come to Hawaii. You know, we actually need to be asking ourselves that all the time: should I be going to such and such a place? Will I be contributing to decoloniality and the restoration of whatever is needed there? Or am I going to be extracting something from them?
Right. So I guess I just wanted to underline and highlight the underlying logics to different kinds of travel, to say, and to make clear that Hawaiians and other Pacific Islanders are voyagers. I think it's like, Epeli Hauʻofa, the late tongue a scholar talked about, you know, the ocean connects us. It's not the thing that divides us and the technologies that Pacific Islanders had to navigate such a large body of water. Brilliant.
Vernadette: Yeah. There's a section in the book that's called "Huaka'i, Tours for Transformation," and we borrow that term from like this notion in Hawaii where if you're voyaging, it is not necessarily to stay in the same place, not physically, but also within who you are.
Right. These kinds of movements through place are meant to change you, right. If that is not why you're going somewhere, right, if that's not part of an understanding of what will result from going to a place, then you might want to rethink why you're going to that place.
And the other thing I want to kind of just emphasize is that the ideas that are in Detours that we try to sort of curate and sort of give space for, are not just ideas that are isolated in Hawaii, right.
They're meant to be lessons, and they're meant to sort of illuminate the kinds of relationships you can have to land, to other people in your own home. Right. So that it's portable. Those lessons of transformation are portable. I think that Hoku and I both hope that after reading Detours, perhaps, if you come to Hawaii and you encounter Hawaii in a different way because of this book or because of some of the lessons in the book that you don't just leave them here. These are not just things that are activated in Hawaii, but rather should be ideas that you should find ways to either translate or think about how they may be at work already in the place that you came from.
And in that sense, how might you be more responsible to the place that you call home, in ways that maybe you hadn't... Because I do get it right, sometimes when you travel somewhere, you do get a new perspective. Part of the reason sometimes that we go to another place. Right. Because it allows you a different way to think about the place you came from or think about the world from a different position. But I think that if you don't take that back with you, then what have you learned?
Chris: For the past four or five years working on these quote, detours here. It's something that came up all the time with me and my companeros and companeras, that even if something that we offer is deep enough to affect change in someone, how do we know if that change affects the place they live in?
How do we know if it becomes homework and in the end, we really couldn't know without trying to set up some kind of network or relationship, just to know and in the end you can't, right, I think, to some degree.
You see this quite a bit in the responsible and sustainable tourism marketing strategies and things like that, but not to the extent of actually taking something home and doing something with it. Right. And so the connection between our voyages, as you said, in regards to the ocean, for example, that these places and experiences can be linked hopefully in good ways, in time as well.
So I'd like to return if I can, to the question of the tourism military industrial complex on Hawaii. Given that the military occupation of Hawaii is closely woven into the tourism industry there, do you think it is possible to achieve deoccupation or decolonization without dismantling the tourism industry?
Vernadette: So I think my answer is no. I think there are steps to decolonization without giving the land back, right, and that has to do with getting the military out of here and giving the sort of reins, the control, the authority back to native people, right.
About what does governance look like in this place? And so it's not, it's not possible, right. If we're truly committed to decolonization, it's not just about pretty words or "hey, you can have Hawaiian immersion courses here." That's a step towards it, right.
Getting your language back is massive, right, but decolonization, if we really want to see it happen here, in that kind of amazing, imagined future, it can't happen with the military here and it can't happen with the way tourism is currently hand-in-hand with the military here.
Hokulani: Yep. I think that deoccupation will require the removal of the US military and the United States giving the land back to the Hawaiian people, returning it, acknowledging that they stole it in the first place... which they have acknowledged that they stole it, but then I need to whatever. Okay.
Vernadette: It's not a real apology in...
Hokulani: right? It's like, there's already been an acknowledgement in 1993, Clinton signed the acknowledgement, whatever executive order, acknowledging that, you know, the overthrow was illegal and everything that followed from it was illegal. Right? So, the United States knows that what it did was wrong and yet on the strategic position of Hawaii, vis-a-vis the rest of the Pacific in Asia means that they will not live into their responsibilities.
Right. Either. So, yes, I think deoccupation and returning the land to Hawaiians, all of it, not just some of it, all of it, is essential. And then, for me tourism, as it's connected to the tourism industrial complex and its relationship to capitalism, global corporations and all of that absolutely has to change.
It's not sustainable at the local level. Clearly, the pandemic has demonstrated the precarity, right, of that. But to say that folks aren't going to visit Hawaii is also not real, either. So then the question becomes, what would an indigenized travel industry look like, how would it be governed? What would the economic scale be? What would be valued in that structure? What wouldn't, and what might need to be devalued or bracketed under those other conditions. Right. What would be the guiding principles?
Vernadette: It's sure wouldn't look like Waikiki right now.
Hokulani: Travel industry.
Vernadette: I love that Hoku. I hadn't, I hadn't actually thought about...
Hokulani: What would that require people to do if they wanted to visit the island, um, learn the language, learn the protocols?
Don't go when they are not invited. Stop playing with the damn turtles. People doing cultural practices. Just walk away. You don't need to go watch. It's not for you. Right?
Chris: But it's, it's really important, you know, not just for our listeners for all, for all tourists travelers, local people. You know what you just said I think inspires not just imagination, but the need for imagination in these conversations, going far beyond notions of sustainability that are just repairs on the, on the hull of the Titanic. Right.
Vernadette: Yeah, I really love, I really love what Hoku just said, because I think that the pandemic ideally should have given us some breathing room to rethink how this thing has been working and definitely not working right here in Hawaii. But instead, as things swing back into the normal, we're seeing more of the same, rather than a demand and some space made for different kinds of imaginations and alternatives to really be fostered.
I love the, I mean, what would tourism look like under a sovereign Hawaii? And, you know, it's really about reframing the terms of encounters, because I think it's good to have encounters with people outside of your group. This is how we become good neighbors with each other instead of you know, have war.
Um, it's good to, to have exchanges of ideas. So that's not going to go away. Right. And ideally it shouldn't, but how then do we re-establish a way to encounter each other that is equitable and just, right. That is at the heart of the whole thing where sovereignty and ea is the guiding principle of that encounter.
So how does this support indigenous sovereignty in a place that is allowing you to visit, and I think that is not a question that it's currently being asked. Right.
Hokulani: You know what this is reminding me of is the chapter by Malia Akutagawa, who writes from Molokai'i about how the community there blocked cruise ships from coming onto the island and doing tours until the folks who ran the cruises, met with the local and together determined how visitors would engage when they were on island.
Right. So what happens when, rather than the corporations determining the terms of engagement, but the local community determining the terms of engagement, right, and setting the parameters of what's appropriate and inappropriate. That shift is a big one, right? What a great way of like disrupting power dynamics rather than having capitalism, capital, making decisions.
It's, you know, the values of the local and the needs of the local making those decisions, and then structuring the terms of that relationship right. Now, it's reciprocal. It's not one directional. Yeah. And so that's a fabulous chapter. There's other examples in here too, where local communities are setting the terms for engagement with visitors, be they local or tourists from out from other places beyond Hawaii.
Vernadette: Yeah. And it's really such a simple and elegant idea, right? The notion that the folks who call this place home get to set the parameters for the guests.
It makes sense for people, right? Like you wouldn't want somebody to just come into your house and just start raiding the fridge. Like, who is this stranger, you know taking a shower, leaving trash, and then going? And I mean, that's essentially how tourism has worked. Right. And, and if that's the analogy, then it becomes really clear that it's been a really broken system.
It's been a really broken practice and we've just sort of put up with it. Right. and so I think Malia's chapter and some other contributors chapters, in Detours really illuminate the absurdity, right? That, that is something that is a new idea, or you know, that you wouldn't get angry about.
Chris: You know, in speaking to a few people around the world and having done a few interviews, it's really incredible, but perhaps not surprising that, that this happens all over the world really.
Vernadette: I do want to point out that Detours is now a series. We have a number of different works in progress with different editorial teams. And so there are some volumes in the works as well that hopefully will take the same model, right, of detours and use it to kind of give folks deeper understandings of what decoloniality might look like in these other places as well. So we're really excited to see that happening. Just wanted to let folks know that Hawaii is not going to be the only volume.
Hokulani: Exactly. And just as we, as the editors who curated this thing learned so much, and we're inspired by our contributors and the series also inspired all these other folks to want to curate what decoloniality looks like in the places where they are, where are the places that they call home, places that they're committed to working with and bringing liberation to. And so, yeah, I've always been humbled to be in a position to be able to work on this project because so much, I didn't know, as well.
This is just a sliver of what's out there. There's so much more that could have been written that could go into it. And so many other kinds of projects and practices happening across the pae ʻāina and beyond that contribute to decolonization and the restoration of So it's just our humble contribution. One piece of a much larger picture.
Chris: You know, in regards to detours, uh, that in the three weeks I took to read the book that I learned infinitely more about Hawaiian culture, people, land, history than I ever did or even could in the three weeks that I had visited Hawaii.
I felt a sense of solidarity or a desire to stand in solidarity with the decolonial projects being undertaken and being spoken of in the book, in part by not going there, you know, not needing to go there to participate or to, to see right, to be a spectator.
So I think it's a really crucial way of subverting tourism through education and doing so without implicating the grave consequences that arise as a result of the tourism industry. And so, on behalf of our listeners, I'd love to offer a deep bow and thank you for your aloha and kuleana, for your discipline and dedication, for both of you joining us today. It's been a great honor, really.
Well, thank you both. Our listeners, if they're interested, can purchase detours through Duke University Press?
Vernadette: That's right. It's available most anywhere and if you want to support your local bookstores, you can get them to order it directly from the press, rather than going through other sort of giant corporations. I believe we have a discount code to folks on an order it from the press and I can get that to you, Chris.
Chris: Perfect. Absolutely. Yeah.
Vernadette: Thank you so much, Chris.
Chris: Likewise. Thank you too, as well, Vernadette and Hokulani, and may you both have a great evening. Thanks for joining us.